Guard Your Heart, Part Two: Kathryn E. Brightbill
Kathryn Brightbill blogs at The Life and Opinions of Kathryn Elizabeth, Person.
In this series: Part One | Part Two
Sometimes the hardest person to come out to is yourself.
After spending a few years post-college working as a wedding and gift registry consultant (turns out I liked studying computer science a lot more than doing it), I decided a change of course was in order, packed up everything and moved to Vietnam to teach for a year. I had a wonderful time and learned a lot about myself and also learned tons from the very talented and accomplished Vietnamese faculty at the university where I taught. Coming back to the US sent me into a tailspin of reverse culture shock and I spent a long few months feeling like I didn’t know which end was up or what ground was solid. During that time I found myself questioning all sorts of things as I tried to figure out what to do with myself and which direction was forward. It was during that time that I began to realize that it wasn’t just that I had been really good at guarding my heart, and that it wasn’t just that I hadn’t found the right guy, it’s that I never was attracted to guys in the first place.
When you’re the model homeschool child, “gay” is something that happens to other people. As a kid it was those people I’d see on TV marching, or who my parents’ religious right friends would rail against, but it’s certainly not the sort of thing that a good little homeschooled church kid would consider to have anything to do with themselves. And it’s most definitely not the sort of thing that even crossed my mind as something to consider as an answer to make sense of things in my life as I was growing up.
In retrospect, all sorts of things about my past make sense, from never having an answer when my sister would ask me who I had a crush on when I was little, to not being able come up with a guy I thought was hot when asked by my hall mates in college, oh, and the reason I watched xXx about six times in the theater my senior year of college wasn’t just because I liked the car chases (though the car chases didn’t hurt), and it certainly wasn’t Keanu Reeves who I was watching The Matrix for. But back then, I was so busy guarding my heart that I didn’t see any of that.
I won’t pretend that finally realizing and coming to terms with being gay was easy because it wasn’t. I knew that I needed to live honestly and that doing so meant that my life wouldn’t be quite the same as I’d envisioned for myself—staying in the closet was not an option I was willing to consider.
I’m fortunate though, in a number of ways. First, by the time I figured it out, I was out of the homeschool bubble. When I was growing up I was the model homeschool child. I don’t think my parents were ever aware of the pressure I felt I was under with other people telling their children to be like me—I never said anything about how kids would comment about what their parents had said about how brilliant my siblings and I were—but when you know that other people think your family is wonderful there’s pressure not to let them down. By the time my younger brother finished school, my parents were more than ready to hand any responsibility they still had off to others and to just be done with the whole homeschool world completely. While I didn’t feel it, there are a lot of queer former homeschoolers who do feel the pressure of what their coming out will do to their parents’ reputation within the homeschool community.
Second, by the time I realized I was gay, I’d already thought for years that LGBT people deserved full equal rights, and had concluded that the belief that it was a sin came from taking scripture massively out of context. For kids, homeschooled or not, who grow up in evangelical households, the sin issue is usually an enormously difficult thing to grapple with.
Ironically, perhaps, I feel like the other issues aside, my background as a homeschooler actually helped me. As mainstream as my family was, and as much as I worked to blend in with my surroundings so I wouldn’t stand out as the “weird homeschooler,” homeschooling—or at least homeschooling during the era I was homeschooled—at its core is a countercultural movement. Fundamental to any countercultural movement is a willingness to go against the mainstream, to stand out, to be different, and to question the dominant paradigm. By homeschooling, parents do not just teach their children academics or a particular set of theological or political beliefs or worldview, the very act of homeschooling is teaching children how to think and act counter-culturally. That’s not something that just gets turned off or erased when you graduate.
The recurring theme when I try to write about my homeschool experiences is the tension that exists between what is and what was supposed to be. Homeschooling was supposed to produce activists, and here I am, an activist, but I’m on the opposite side from where I was supposed to be. It was supposed to teach us how to learn and keep learning on our own, and it did. It’s just that I kept learning enough to learn how much of what homeschool “leaders” were saying wasn’t true. And homeschooling was supposed to produce young adults who could stand up for what they believe and who wouldn’t be buffeted about by external pressure. Well, here I am. I was taught not to care what society thought and I’m not going to suddenly start listening now or bending to external pressure when it comes to my sexual orientation.
I’m sure others in the homeschool world consider me to be a disappointment, wondering what went wrong because I’ve so clearly ventured off of the path that homeschooling was supposed to set me on. I don’t doubt that there are those who are trying to figure out what to do to avoid such an obvious failure as the increasing number of homeschoolers who are coming out must, in their minds, be. And, I am sure there are those—even some who are reading this piece—who are wondering what my parents did wrong, since homeschooling was supposed prevent people like me from happening.
I would argue, however, that my story is a homeschooling success story. The reason I’m here today, the person I am, is because of what my parents did right. I am the person I am today, with the internal fortitude to live my truth openly and honestly and to be my own person because of my experiences as a homeschooler. So what if that person is a politically liberal, openly gay, Christian, nerd with an activist streak a mile wide? The system worked. Just not in the way intended, and that’s a good thing.
End of series.